Facebook pays users for data privacy lawsuits, Google could be next

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If you’ve ever been tagged in a photo online, you could have some cash to win – and soon.

Earlier this month, more than 1.4 million Long-term and short-term residents of Illinois have started receiving checks for up to $397, as compensation for a $650 million class action lawsuit settled against Facebook. According to the plaintiffs, the social media platform unlawfully used facial recognition data – collected without consent – ​​to trick users into tagging their friends in the photos.

Experts say this is just the beginning: more privacy prosecution checks are likely on the horizon. Google Photos and Shutterfly have filed similar class action lawsuits in Illinois and entered the approval stages of multimillion-dollar settlements over the past year. In January, the Pret A Manger sandwich chain settled a lawsuit – for $677,000 – alleging it kept records of employees’ fingerprints from its timekeeping system, which is also illegal under the law. of 2008 on biometric privacy of Illinois.

Illinois law is one of the strictest in the country. Similar laws also exist in Texas and Washington, and are expected to go into effect next year in California, Colorado and Virginia. Spreading such legislation can be timely: According to attorney Paul Geller of Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd LLP, one of the three firms that settled the case against Facebook, audits aren’t as telling as violations confidentiality of the data itself.

“The technology is great, but with things like facial recognition, there’s a dark side to it,” Geller told CNBC Make It. “People don’t realize we’re being watched more than we know.”

Being automatically tagged in photos might not seem like a huge deal, but once tagged, your face can become available to businesses outside the walls of your photo platform. The New York software company Clearview AI, for example, a bit infamous claims to have pulled over 20 billion images from websites like Facebook, YouTube and Venmo for a huge facial recognition database available to paying companies.

“As we walk down the street, everyone can see our face, but only certain people can associate our face with our name,” says Matthew Kugler, professor of privacy law at Northwestern University.

According to Kugler, the technological ability to instantly link a person’s face to their personal information could make it easier for people to harass their local Starbucks barista or endanger the lives and safety of victims of domestic violence, gender or people in witness protection programs.

In 2019, Kugler published to research showing that Americans are not interested in being monitored at this level: more than 70% of participants said they were not comfortable with companies using facial recognition to track the location of people and deliver targeted advertisements. Interestingly, most participants did not express concerns about fingerprint scans in the workplace.

“It’s not that people like or dislike biometric privacy — it’s that what it means to value privacy varies a lot from context to context,” says Kugler. “The same underlying technology could enable both innocuous uses and terrifying results.”

Lawsuits and settlements are already having an impact. Earlier this month, Clearview AI agreed to suspend access to its facial recognition databases to several companies in the United States, transferring the majority of its services to law enforcement only as part of a a recent settlement. Facebook and Instagram users in Illinois and Texas can no longer access “face filter” services.

For now, Kugler says, national legislation is probably a long way off — but you can expect more lawsuits and state-by-state settlements in the years to come.

“For national legislation, it will take some time before there is consensus,” he says. “But from what I understand, many similar lawsuits and settlements are likely to follow now that people know you can make money on it.”

Facebook, Google, Shutterfly, Pret A Manger and Clearview AI did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It’s request for comment.

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